OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – A rural Nebraska county sentenced to a $ 28.1 million court sentence for sending six innocent people to jail could get the state for a $ 4 bailout Received million US dollars.
The legislature pushed the measure 35: 3 with the first of three required votes. Proponents initially proposed a payment of $ 10 million over two years, but scaled it back after some senators expressed reservations about the amount.
Officials in Gage County, southeast Nebraska, have sought government aid since a federal judge ordered them in 2018 to pay the wrongly convicted person known as Beatrice Six. The $ 28.1 million ruling is more than three times the annual property tax revenue for the county of 22,000 residents. With attorney fees and interest, the county’s residents end up paying around $ 31 million on top of the cost of basic government services.
“Gage County has exhausted all funds available to the county and taxpayers,” said Sen. Myron Dorn, a former Gage County supervisor who represents the area.
Gage County officials appealed the judge’s verdict but lost it and increased his property tax to the maximum allowed under state law to help pay the verdict.
In 2019, a new one-half penny sales tax was introduced under a new bill passed by lawmakers against the objections of Republican Governor Pete Ricketts. Sales tax has generated nearly $ 2 million to date. Last year, Gage County settled with its former insurers for an additional $ 6 million after the companies initially denied the county’s claim.
The Beatrice Six spent more than 70 years in jail for a 1985 Beatrice murder but were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2008. The man who was involved in the rape and murder of 68-year-old Helen Wilson died in an Oklahoma prison in 1992.
Criminal case reviews later revealed that the local authorities, under great pressure to obtain convictions, received confessions from five of the six defendants, threatening them with the death penalty.
The authorities also convinced some of the defendants that they had suppressed memories of the crime. Most of them struggled with psychological and developmental problems. And a Nebraska State Patrol forensic scientist, who concluded that the blood and semen at the scene did not match any of the defendants, was never called to testify in court.
Some critics have argued that Gage County blames only themselves, but many residents have countered that they were not living in the area at the time and shouldn’t have to pay for the mistakes of elected officials nearly four decades ago.
Bayard Senator Steve Erdman noted that the jury that sentenced the six came from residents of neighboring Jefferson County. Erdman, a staunch Conservative, said he was induced to support the bill after hearing from a young farmer who was forced to pay additional property taxes of $ 1,400 per year as a result of the ruling.
“Some of these people weren’t even born when this happened,” he said.
Erdman also argued that the state ultimately trained the law enforcement officers who botched the case.
Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, who grew up near Beatrice, said lawmakers should view the issue as representing the entire state, not just its legislative districts.
“Any of us could be in this boat,” she said.
Omaha Senator John Cavanaugh said the case points to major problems in a state system that he said over-incarcerate people.
“It is based on the guidelines we have set and the expectations we have for this system,” he said.
But Lincoln Senator Adam Morfeld said he was more comfortable with the lower $ 4 million payout because Gage County’s residents shouldn’t be completely relieved of the burden of choosing the officials who botched the case.
“I think we should help a little, but I think that these residents, quite frankly, have a certain responsibility,” he said.
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